www.wvgazettemail.com U.S. and World http://www.wvgazettemail.com Gazette archive feed en-us Copyright 2017, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers At least 19 killed in blast at Ariana Grande concert in UK http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170522/GZ01/170529861 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170522/GZ01/170529861 Mon, 22 May 2017 21:43:16 -0400 By Griff Witte and Peter Holley The Washington Post By By Griff Witte and Peter Holley The Washington Post LONDON - An explosion at a pop concert in the northern English city of Manchester late Monday night left at least 19 people dead and about 50 others wounded, according to police.

"This is currently being treated as a terrorist incident until police know otherwise," the Greater Manchester Police said in a statement.

Witnesses interviewed by the BBC reported hearing a loud blast following a performance by American pop singer Ariana Grande at Manchester Arena.

Cellphone video showed chaotic scenes of people screaming and running in the aftermath of the blast. The arena was packed with attendees and pink balloons that had fallen from the ceiling during the concert's final song. Initially, concert-goers said they thought popping balloons had set off a panic.

But witnesses later reported seeing the prone bodies of those who had been wounded and killed, as well as others who were streaked with blood and were staggering away from the scene.

The local hospital, Wythenshawe, said it was dealing with "mass casualties."

Heavily armed police and emergency services swarmed the arena, with ambulances - their blue lights flashing - rushing to the scene.

The local emergency-response service advised the public to call only "for life-threatening emergencies."

Many of the concert attendees were teenagers. Witnesses reported that, outside the arena, parents were frantically attempting to locate their children.

"It was really scary," Michelle Sullivan, who was attending the concert with her 12- and 15-year-old daughters, told the BBC. "Just as the lights have gone down, we heard a really loud explosion. Everybody screamed."

"When we got out, they just said 'Keep on running, keep on running.' "

The singer was "OK," a spokesman for Grande's record label told Reuters.

Police urged people to stay away from the arena.

The arena has a capacity of 21,000. Manchester transport police said the explosion occurred in the foyer of the arena.

Grande is a 23-year-old pop singer and actress who has been in the public spotlight since 2010, when she began appearing on the Nickelodeon television show "Victorious." More recently, the former teen idol has been touring to promote her third studio album, "Dangerous Woman."

She has sold more than 1.7 million albums in recent years.

The singer has more than 45 million followers on Twitter. Grande is also one of the most popular people on Instagram, with 105 million followers - more than even Beyonce, Taylor Swift or Kim Kardashian.

She was scheduled to play two shows in London later this week, before traveling to Belgium, according to her tour dates.

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Trump urges Mideast nations to drive out 'Islamic extremism' http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170521/GZ0113/170529921 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170521/GZ0113/170529921 Sun, 21 May 2017 18:32:05 -0400 By Julie Pace and Jonathan Lemire The Associated Press By By Julie Pace and Jonathan Lemire The Associated Press RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - President Donald Trump on Sunday implored Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries to extinguish "Islamic extremism" emanating from the region, describing a "battle between good and evil" rather than a clash between the West and Islam.

In a pointed departure from his predecessor, Trump all but promised he would not publicly admonish Mideast rulers for human rights violations and oppressive reigns.

"We are not here to lecture - we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship," Trump said, speaking in an ornate room in the Saudi capital. "Instead, we are here to offer partnership - based on shared interests and values - to pursue a better future for us all."

The president's address was the centerpiece of his two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, his first overseas trip since his January swearing-in. For Trump, the trip is a reprieve from the crush of controversies that have marred his young presidency and an attempt to reset his relationship with a region and a religion he fiercely criticized a candidate.

During the 2016 U.S. campaign, Trump mused about his belief that "Islam hates us." But on Sunday, standing before dozens of regional leaders, he said Islam was "one of the world's great faiths."

While running for the job he now holds, Trump heartily criticized President Barack Obama for not using the term "radical Islamic extremism" and said that refusal indicated Obama did not understand America's enemy. In his Saudi speech, Trump condemned "Islamic extremism," "Islamists" and "Islamic terror," but not once uttered the precise phrase he pressed Obama on.

Trump made no mention of the disputed travel ban, signed days after he took office, that temporarily banned immigration to the U.S. from seven majority Muslim countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Both the original order and a second directive that dropped Iraq from the banned list have been blocked by the courts.

In some ways, Trump delivered a conventional speech for an American politician. He pledged deeper ties with the Middle East to tackle terrorism and encouraged more economic development in the region. He heralded the ambitions of the region's youth and warned that the scourge of extremism could tarnish their future.

Trump offered few indications of whether he planned to shift U.S. policy to better fight terrorism. There were no promises of new financial investment or announcements of increased U.S. military presence in the region. The president put much of the onus for combating extremists on Mideast leaders: "Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities."

White House officials said they considered Trump's address to be a counterweight to Obama's debut speech to the Muslim world in 2009 in Cairo. Obama called for understanding and acknowledged some of America's missteps in the region. His speech was denounced by many Republicans and criticized by a number of America's Middle East allies as being a sort of apology.

Trump's remarks came in a meeting with dozens of regional leaders who gathered in Riyadh for a summit with Trump and Saudi King Salman.

The king has lavished praise and all the trappings of a royal welcome on the new American president, welcoming in particular Trump's pledge to be tougher on Iran than Obama was. Indeed, Trump and Salman were in lockstep on the threat Iran poses to the region when they addressed their fellow leaders: Trump accused Iran of "destruction and chaos" and the king said its rival "has been the spearhead of global terrorism."

The Saudis' warm embrace was welcome change for the besieged White House. Officials spent the days before Trump's departure dealing with a steady stream of revelations about the federal investigation into his campaign's possible ties to Russia and the fallout from his firing of FBI Director James Comey.

The president, who is known to tear asunder the White House's plans with a provocative tweet or offhand comment, has largely stuck to the script for opening days of the trip. Apart from Sunday's address, he's made no substantial remarks, other than exchanging pleasantries with other leaders.

Before the speech, Trump held individual meetings with leaders of several nations, including Egypt and Qatar.

His meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi underscored their burgeoning kinship. Trump praised el-Sissi for the April release of Egyptian-American charity worker Aya Hijazi, detained in the country for nearly three years.

El-Sissi invited Trump to visit him in Egypt, adding, "You are a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible." As the participants laughed, Trump responded: "I agree."

The president then complimented el-Sissi's choice of footwear: "Love your shoes. Boy, those shoes" after their brief remarks to the media.

From Saudi Arabia, Trump was scheduled to visit Israel for meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He'll also go to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis, to Brussels for a NATO summit and to Sicily for a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven major industrial nations.

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Manchin: Russia/Trump investigations no 'witch hunt' http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170519/GZ0101/170519503 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170519/GZ0101/170519503 Fri, 19 May 2017 19:20:03 -0400 Jake Zuckerman By Jake Zuckerman Ten days after the ouster of FBI Director James Comey, Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election are no "witch hunt," despite President Donald Trump's claim.

Manchin, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said whether it be through the recent appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller to run a special counsel investigation or probes in the U.S. House and Senate, the truth will come out.

"The Russian investigation is extremely serious, it is not a witch hunt. Everyone that I know involved in this in any committee is not talking about any witch hunt whatsoever," he said. "We just want to get the facts. We don't want Russia casting doubts about our government, our democracy, our election process. We don't want them - we don't need them involved."

Trump's decision to fire Comey on May 9 renewed calls for the start of an independent investigation.

Between February and this week, national news outlets have reported on communications between administration members and Russian officials.

As of Friday, the Justice Department is leading the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, while intelligence committees in the House and Senate are looking into alleged Russian intervention in the election, and the Senate Judiciary and House Oversight and Government Reform committees are looking into the conduct of Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the circumstances of Comey's firing, according to a list curated by Vox.

Internal documents are suggesting Trump fired Comey as a means of alleviating pressure on his administration regarding the Russia investigation. A memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein released publicly the day of the firing states that the decision was made because of Comey's mishandling of protocol regarding the investigation of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while conducting State Department business.

However, Manchin said if this were the case, the window has passed for this as a viable rationale for the firing.

"To let this thing go clear from January, for four months, and then all of a sudden, knowing that this Russian investigation is very serious, and making the decision at this time was just wrong," he said. "The timing was just wrong. But he's the president, that's 'will-and-pleasure,' he makes those decisions, and I respect that. But now, they have to answer for that."

At this point, Manchin said, a key role of investigators will be to figure out if Trump's decision to fire Comey was done in the best interest of the country or as a means to stifle a troubling investigation and protect himself.

As the investigation has progressed, the public has remained clued in because of a heavy focus on the matter by The New York Times and The Washington Post, often relying on anonymous sources.

For instance, The Post published a report Monday, which relied on anonymous sources, claiming that Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador.

Although Manchin said the information Trump shared is "pretty potent," the president and his executive branch ultimately have the authority to declassify material as they please.

On Tuesday, The Times reported that Trump asked Comey if he could drop the investigation regarding Flynn and his allegedly improper communications with Russian officials, also relying on anonymous sources.

In reference to these leaks, Manchin said the president has acted as his own worst enemy and needs to stop reacting to every blow he's hit with and tamp down his public responses, which will curb the steady trickle of leaks.

"It starts at the top, and I would ask the president to just tone down, maybe not tweet for a while, and go out and get to learn your intelligence community," he said.

Manchin called leaks "dangerous" and "serious," as a general concept, but he said the leaks appearing in the papers have been more political shots than any threat to national security.

"I haven't seen a leak that was classified information that would make us susceptible or vulnerable to an attack or something along those lines," he said. "It's been basically political or personal, if you evaluate it."

Despite the special investigation, Manchin said, the Senate Intelligence Committee will continue to put the facts together, as well.

"Whatever they do doesn't change our job," he said. "The Senate Intel does its job."

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

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FCC security guards manhandle reporter, eject him from meeting for asking questions http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170519/GZ0113/170519517 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170519/GZ0113/170519517 Fri, 19 May 2017 08:33:40 -0400 By Derek Hawkins The Washington Post By By Derek Hawkins The Washington Post WASHINGTON - A veteran Washington reporter says he was manhandled by security guards from the Federal Communications Commission, then forced out of the agency's headquarters as he tried to ask a commissioner questions at a public meeting on Thursday.

John M. Donnelly, a senior writer at CQ Roll Call, said he was trying to talk with FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly one-on-one after a news conference when two plainclothes guards pinned him against a wall with the backs of their bodies.

Seeking to question officials after news conferences is standard practice for journalists in Washington.

O'Rielly saw the encounter but continued walking, Donnelly said in a statement through the National Press Club, where he heads the Press Freedom Team.

After O'Rielly passed, the statement read, one of the guards asked why Donnelly hadn't brought up his questions while the commissioner was at the podium. The guard then made him leave the building "under implied threat of force," it read.

Donnelly said he had approached O'Rielly in an unthreatening way, but the guards treated him as if he had committed a crime.

"I could not have been less threatening or more polite," he said. "There is no justification for using force in such a situation."

O'Rielly responded to Donnelly directly on Twitter Thursday evening, apologizing for the encounter and saying he didn't notice the guards getting physical with him.

"I saw security put themselves between you, me and my staff. I didn't see anyone put a hand on you," he said. In another tweet, he said he was "freezing and starving" at the time.

"I appreciate the apology," Donnelly replied. "But 'put themselves' there makes it sound dainty. They pinned me."

CQ Roll Call, owned by the Economist Group, publishes a variety of news products focused on policy and politics in Washington. It's known for carefully-researched, authoritative and unbiased reporting.

Donnelly, a well-known specialist in defense and military affairs, serves as president of the Military Reporters and Editors Association. He has previously headed the National Press Club's Board of Governors and served on the Standing Committee of Correspondents for the U.S. Congress.

Thursday's meeting involved a discussion of a range of proposed FCC rules, including a proposal to roll back net neutrality regulations adopted during the Obama administration. Several pro-net neutrality groups demonstrated outside the FCC's headquarters in the morning.

An FCC spokesman told The Washington Post in an email: "We apologized to Mr. Donnelly more than once and let him know that the FCC was on heightened alert today based on several threats."

The incident comes at a time of growing and undisguised hostility toward the press in the upper ranks of government. Since taking office, President Trump has called news organizations the "enemy of the people," and Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, has described the media as "the opposition party."

On Wednesday, when Trump was presented with ceremonial sword at a U.S. Coast Guard commencement ceremony, Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly told him, "You can use that on the press."

Just last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price defended the arrest of a reporter who tried to question him about the Republican health care bill in a hallway at the West Virginia state capitol. The reporter, Dan Heyman of Public News Service, was jailed on a charge of willful disruption of state government processes. Price said police "did what they felt was appropriate."

Donnelly said he noticed at Thursday's FCC meeting that security guards were following him around the building as if he were a security threat, even though he was wearing his press badge and carrying a notebook and recorder. At one point, he said, guards waited for him outside the restroom.

"I thought they were just doing it to prevent anyone from getting too close to the commissioners, which I would understand as a security measure," Donnelly told Mic. "But then it became apparent that they were singling me out as if I were someone who was some sort of trouble."

The National Press Club's statement identified the guard who ejected Donnelly as Frederick Bucher, head of the FCC's security operations center.

According to the National Press Club, Bucher took a press badge from Bloomberg reporter Todd Shields last year after Shields spoke with a protester at an FCC meeting.

Jeff Ballou, the National Press Club's president, condemned the guards' actions on Thursday.

"Donnelly was doing his job and doing it with his characteristic civility," Ballou said in a statement. "Reporters can ask questions in any area of a public building that is not marked off as restricted to them. Officials who are fielding the questions don't have to answer. But it is completely unacceptable to physically restrain a reporter who has done nothing wrong or force him or her to leave a public building as if a crime had been committed."

Others came to Donnelly's defense as well:

Carl Hulse tweeted: Outrageous and offensive. John is an accomplished veteran reporter and knows how to do his job in DC. This and WV arrest are ominous.

Geof Koss tweted: it's outrageous that a total professional like @johnmdonnelly should be removed under "implied threat of force" for trying to ask a question

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Paul Farhi, The Post's media reporter, contributed to this story.

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Driver charged with murder after plowing into Times Square crowd http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170519/GZ0113/170519518 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170519/GZ0113/170519518 Fri, 19 May 2017 08:28:03 -0400 By Samantha Schmidt The Washington Post By By Samantha Schmidt The Washington Post The driver who rammed into a crowded Times Square on Thursday, killing a woman and injuring 22 others, has been charged with 20 counts of attempted murder and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, according to the New York Police Department.

Richard Rojas, the 26-year-old suspect, was taken into custody after he allegedly mounted the sidewalk on 7th Avenue in Manhattan, plowing through pedestrians at high speeds, creating a chaotic and terrifying scene amid the afternoon lunch rush at one of the busiest intersections in the world.

Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old tourist from Portage, Michigan, was the sole person killed in the crash, according to the police. She had been visiting Times Square with her sister, who was injured during the episode.

Preliminary tests show Rojas, a U.S. citizen and resident of the Bronx, was under the influence of the mood-altering drug PHP, law enforcement sources told the New York Times and CNN. Rojas was previously arrested for drunken driving in 2015 and 2008, police said. Rojas remained in custody Thursday night.

Rojas is a U.S. Navy veteran who was discharged in 2014 as a result of a special court-martial, the Associated Press reported. He enlisted in 2011, served as an electrician's mate fireman apprentice, and was most recently based at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida. The circumstances surrounding the court-martial were not immediately available.

Witnesses at the crash said the wounded were "laying on the sidewalks" and others were "screaming and running," as The Washington Post reported. Those in the area were told to shelter in place while emergency crews swarmed the scene.

Immediately after the crash, Rojas reportedly tried to flee on foot. A bouncer at Planet Hollywood managed to tackle him to the ground, the Associated Press reported. The bouncer, Ken Bradix, has worked at Planet Hollywood for 17 years and was walking toward the restaurant when the he saw the car careening down the sidewalk and the driver subsequently running away from the scene.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials said there is no indication the crash was related to terrorism.

"It's a tough day for New York City, but as usual the people of New York City will stand firm, will be resilient," de Blasio said in a news conference.

Relatives, friends and community members in Portage, Michigan, mourned the loss of Elsman, the 18-year-old killed in the crash.

"We're all kind of a mess," Eric Alburtus, principal of Portage Central High School, from which Elsman graduated last year, told the Detroit Free Press.

Elsman was a kind, compassionate student known around the school for selling muffins she baked in a cooking class, Alburtus said.

"Alyssa was wonderful young lady," he said. "When you first got to know her, you would perceive that she was shy or quiet. The more you got to know her, the more you would realize she was funny, and thoughtful, and compassionate to other people."

According to her Facebook page, Elsman was working at a Sonic Drive-In. She also had a boyfriend.

"She was sweet and really laid back," said Stacey Vogl, the mother of Elsman's boyfriend, Trevor West, told the New York Daily News. "She was the one person that brought my son joy."

Relatives told the New York Daily News she was studying at a community college near her home outside of Kalamazoo. She was visiting New York City with her mother and city and they were scheduled to return to Michigan later Thursday.

Before the crash, her 13-year-old sister posted a video on Instagram showing a view of bustling Times Square.

"The Elsmans are a very close-knit family and that will be huge in a situation like this," Elsman's aunt Shelly Dusek told CBS New York.

After she heard the news, Dusek posted a message on Facebook.

"My niece," Dusek said. "I'm heartbroken."

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Republicans put hope in Mueller on Russia issue http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170519/GZ0113/170519519 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170519/GZ0113/170519519 Fri, 19 May 2017 01:03:18 -0400 By Erica Werner and Darlene Superville The Associated Press By By Erica Werner and Darlene Superville The Associated Press WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Thursday denounced the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his campaign's alleged ties with Russia, repeatedly calling it an unprecedented "witch hunt" that "hurts our country terribly."

Fellow Republicans, though, expressed hopes the move would restore some calm to a capital plunged into chaos.

A day after appointing former FBI director Robert Mueller to lead the independent inquiry, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appeared behind closed doors before the full Senate. Lawmakers of both parties sought to question him about Trump's firing last week of FBI Director James Comey, which was followed by allegations that Trump had shared secrets with the Russians and tried to stop Comey from investigating former presidential adviser Michael Flynn.

"We'll get rid of the smoke and see where the actual issues lie," said Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. "I do think that the special prosecutor provides a sense of calm and confidence, perhaps, for the American people, which is incredibly important."

Trump disagreed. The appointment, he said in a briefing with news anchors, "hurts our country terribly."

He said it "shows we're a divided, mixed-up, not unified country" and is "a very, very negative thing."

He made the point again at a joint news conference with President Juan Manuel Santos, of Colombia, describing the development as a distraction.

"Well, I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt," he said, insisting there had been "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia.

"I'm fine with whatever people want to do," he added. "But we have to go back to running this country really, really well."

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Mueller has been given sweeping power to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, including possible links between Moscow and Trump campaign associates.

Despite initially opposing appointment of an independent counsel, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Thursday that the development "helps assure people and the Justice Department that they're going to go do their jobs independently and thoroughly, which is what we've called for all along."

Thursday morning, Trump took to Twitter.

"This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!" Trump wrote, ignoring impeachment efforts and blistering verbal attacks on previous presidents and other political leaders.

"With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!" he added later.

Trump is leaving today for his first foreign trip, to the Mideast and beyond, which aides hope can have the effect of refocusing a White House in disarray.

The president's tweets and comments to the TV anchors drew little reaction from fellow Republicans, who instead joined Democrats in heaping praise on Mueller, a longtime respected lawman who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, preceding Comey as head of the FBI. Now, Mueller will have nearly unfettered access to witnesses and information, and the ability to bring criminal charges.

His appointment raises the stakes dramatically on the long-simmering allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 election and had connections with members of the Trump campaign.

Democratic senators had been prepared to press Rosenstein on Thursday to take the step of appointing a special prosecutor, but they were left praising him, instead, before his closed-door briefing began.

"This was a very good first step. Mr. Rosenstein has done the right thing," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor. "I now have significantly greater confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead."

Despite the appointment, at least three congressional committees are continuing their investigations, leading to some turf warfare and sniping as the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee both seek to lay claim to testimony from Comey, while the House Oversight Committee also hopes to hear from the former director.

On a day of fast-moving developments, the House Intelligence Committee announced that it, too, has asked for documents, in this case from the FBI and the Justice Department.

The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said he is supportive of investigations in Congress but expressed concern about the "proliferation" of hearings.

"I hope that we don't inadvertently trip up or damage the independent investigation of the special counsel," he said.

There was confusion during the day surrounding Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, who has emerged as a central figure because of his own ties to Russia, which led to his dismissal early on in the Trump administration.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr indicated at one point that Flynn was resisting the committee's document subpoenas, but later clarified that he hadn't actually heard from Flynn's lawyer to that effect and he would welcome "their willingness to cooperate."

It was not clear what caused the mix-up.

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WV Sens. Capito, Manchin urge Appalachian natural gas hub http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170518/GZ01/170519555 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170518/GZ01/170519555 Thu, 18 May 2017 15:48:54 -0400 The Associated Press By The Associated Press West Virginia's U.S. senators are urging federal officials to consider building a major natural gas storage and distribution hub in the Appalachian region.

In a letter Thursday to National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, the senators say the White House should examine "the numerous benefits" of putting a world-class natural gas liquid-storage and distribution hub in the region with growing but still underutilized reserves of underground natural gas.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., cite an American Chemistry Council study that an Appalachian hub could attract $36 billion in new chemical and plastics industry investment and create 100,000 new jobs.

They write that building a hub and related infrastructure "will attract sorely needed economic activity to this underserved part of the country."

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Manchin pens letter to Trump seeking preservation of drug office http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170517/GZ0101/170519591 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170517/GZ0101/170519591 Wed, 17 May 2017 18:35:27 -0400 Eric Eyre By Eric Eyre Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sent a letter Wednesday to President Donald Trump urging him not to gut the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, a federal agency responsible for curbing the nation's opioid epidemic.

Politico and other news outlets have reported that the Trump administration has proposed slashing the drug office's funding by 95 percent. The cuts would eliminate the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and Drug Free Communities programs that aim to curb the supply and demand for illicit drugs.

"While our country and state are fighting this opioid epidemic, we should not be cutting the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy," Manchin said. "In counties across West Virginia, drug abuse is tearing families apart, destroying our workforce and weakening our economy.

"Our communities rely on the [drug office's] leadership and funding to help rebuild the lives, families and communities that are being torn apart."

Also Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., joined 70 House members who signed a letter, asking Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to keep the White House drug policy office intact.

"We are gravely concerned that any interruption would exacerbate the [drug] crises in our communities," Jenkins and fellow House members wrote.

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., also signed the letter.

Jenkins recently announced plans to run for U.S. Senate in next year's election. If Jenkins wins the GOP primary, he would face Manchin in the general election.

West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, and the deaths are rising. At last count, 864 West Virginians fatally overdosed in 2016 - a record number. Heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers caused the bulk of those deaths.

In his letter, Manchin wrote that White House drug office programs help coordinate federal and local law enforcement agencies, reducing illegal drug sales and production. The programs also work with community groups to address substance abuse, Manchin said.

"With an average of 91 people dying [nationwide] every day from an opioid overdose, now is not the time to be cutting funding to the critical federal programs that help us combat this epidemic," Manchin wrote in his letter to Trump.

The House letter says that the Office of National Drug Control Policy plays a critical role in ensuring that the nation's drug policies are "effective, accountable and evidence-based." The office was established nearly two decades ago. It serves as the White House's only repository of detailed information about national drug problems.

The office, which received $388 million in federal funding in fiscal 2017, would only get $24 million in fiscal 2018, according to a White House budget proposal first reported by Politico earlier this month. More than 30 employees would lose their jobs.

Trump recently set up a White House commission that's being asked to recommend ways to reduce opioid abuse. The president appointed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to lead the panel.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.

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Former FBI director Mueller to lead Trump-Russia probe http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170517/GZ0113/170519592 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170517/GZ0113/170519592 Wed, 17 May 2017 18:21:33 -0400 By Eric Tucker and Nancy Benac The Associated Press By By Eric Tucker and Nancy Benac The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Besieged from all sides, the Trump administration appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller Wednesday evening as a special counsel to oversee the federal investigation into allegations Russia and Donald Trump's campaign collaborated to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The appointment came as Democrats insisted ever more loudly that someone outside Trump's Justice Department must handle the politically charged investigation. An increasing number of Republicans, too, have joined in calling for Congress to dig deeper, especially after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey who had been leading the bureau's probe.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump complained in a commencement address that "no politician in history" has been treated worse by his foes, even as exasperated fellow Republicans slowly joined the clamor for an significant investigation into whether he tried to quash the FBI's probe.

Three congressional committees, all led by Republicans, confirmed they wanted to hear from Comey, whose notes about a February meeting with the president indicate Trump urged him to drop the bureau's investigation of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Congressional investigators are seeking Comey's memos, as well as documents from the Justice Department related to the firing.

Many Democrats also were calling for an independent special counsel, or prosecutor.

The latest political storm, coupled with the still-potent fallout from Trump's recent disclosure of classified information to Russian diplomats, overshadowed all else in the capital and beyond. Stocks fell sharply on Wall Street as investors worried that the latest turmoil in Washington could hinder Trump's pro-business agenda.

Republicans, frustrated by the president's relentless parade of problems, largely sought to cool the heated climate with assurances they would get to the bottom of scandals.

"There's clearly a lot of politics being played," House Speaker Paul Ryan said. "Our job is to get the facts and to be sober about doing that."

Unimpressed, Rep. Elijah Cummings, top Democrat on a key House oversight panel, said, "Speaker Ryan has shown he has zero, zero, zero appetite for any investigation of Donald Trump. He accused the Republicans of taking great pains to "do as little as humanly possible, just to claim that they're doing something."

Interest was hardly limited to the U.S. No less a commentator than Russia's Vladimir Putin called the dramatic charges swirling around Trump evidence of "political schizophrenia spreading in the U.S." He offered to furnish a "record" of the Trump-diplomats meeting in the Oval Office if the White House desired it.

There was no word on what that record might entail, a question many were likely to raise in light of Trump's recent warning to Comey that he had "better hope" there were no tapes of a discussion they'd had.

The White House disputed Comey's account of the February conversation concerning Flynn, but did not offer specifics. Several members of Congress said that if Trump did suggest that Comey "let this go" regarding Flynn's Russian contacts, it was probably just a joke, light banter.

White House aides mostly kept a rare low profile, avoiding going on television. Trump did not offer any commentary on Twitter and did not directly address the controversies during a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy, though he delivered a broadside against the forces he sees as working against him.

"No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly," he said. "You can't let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams. ... I guess that's why we won. Adversity makes you stronger. Don't give in, don't back down. ... And the more righteous your fight, the more opposition that you will face."

Questions about Trump's conduct have been mounting for weeks, most recently with two explosive revelations - that in February the president pressed Comey to drop a federal investigation into Flynn's contacts with Russia and that he disclosed classified information to the senior Russian officials last week.'

Both allegations came from anonymous sources, and the White House was quick to denounce the leaks and deny any impropriety, insisting the president never tried to squelch the Flynn investigation nor did he make inappropriate disclosures to the Russians.

Putin, watching from afar, said the "evolving political struggle" had gone from something of an amusement to serious cause for concern, and he suggested Trump's critics were stoking anti-Russian sentiment to damage the president.

"These people either don't understand that they are hurting their own country, and in that case they are just dumb," Putin said. "Or they do understand everything, and that means that they are dangerous and unscrupulous."

On Capitol Hill, Comey was clearly the man in demand, with three committees working to seat him at their witness tables.

n The House oversight committee set a May 24 hearing on whether Trump interfered in the FBI probe, and invited Comey to testify.

n The Senate intelligence committee invited Comey to appear in both open and closed sessions. It also asked acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to give the committee any notes Comey might have made regarding discussions he had with White House or Justice Department officials about Russia's efforts to influence the election.

n Top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the FBI to provide any Comey memos and asked the White House to turn over any audio recordings that might exist of conversations with the now-fired director. They expect to bring in Comey in to testify, as well.

Trump is preparing to leave town Friday on his first foreign trip, and aides have been hopeful the journey will be a chance for the administration to get back on track after weeks of chaos and distractions.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speculated Trump was probably happy to get out of town - "and a lot of us are glad he's leaving for a few days."

His advice to the president: "Stay disciplined, stay focused and deliver on the world stage."

___

Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann, Eileen Sullivan, Erica Werner, Matthew Daly and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report

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Cracker Barrel settles federal suit over handicapped parking http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170517/GZ0113/170519615 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170517/GZ0113/170519615 Wed, 17 May 2017 14:21:51 -0400 By Joe Mandak The Associated Press By By Joe Mandak The Associated Press PITTSBURGH (AP) - Cracker Barrel Old Country Store has settled a class-action lawsuit brought by a basketball star who claimed handicapped parking spaces at some restaurants are too steep or otherwise violate federal law.

Sarah Heinzl, of Pittsburgh, plays on the U.S. Women's Wheelchair Basketball National Team and sued in 2014. She claimed parking spaces at the Robinson Township restaurant were so sloped her wheelchair would roll away before she could get into it so she'd bring along her mother to help whenever she wanted to eat there.

"That's exactly the type of thing the Americans With Disabilities Act was supposed to prevent," Heinzl's attorney, Benjamin Sweet told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "It's supposed to make the facilities independently usable. You're not supposed to have to bring a family member or a loved one with you."

Officials with the Lebanon, Tennessee-based chain didn't immediately comment on the settlement. It received preliminary approval Monday by a federal magistrate in Pittsburgh who set a hearing Aug. 10 to formally approve it.

Under the settlement, Cracker Barrel has 2½ years to fix slope and other handicapped parking problems at 107 restaurants in seven states and up to seven years to fix any problems revealed by court-ordered architectural surveys of its 536 other restaurants.

After suing, Heinzl's attorneys visited six more restaurants in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio and found similar problems, so they expanded their investigation to 107 stores in those and four other states, Kentucky, New York, Tennessee, and Texas, Sweet said.

About 20 percent of those restaurants had parking spaces with more than a 2.1 percent slope - the maximum allowed under federal law - and all of them had some violations, including things like inadequate signage, Sweet said. Some of the parking spaces had slopes that were six times as steep as the law allows.

Court records show Cracker Barrel disputed those findings before agreeing to settlement discussions after Heinzl's lawsuit was certified a class-action in December 2015. Heinzl's attorneys tried to get the magistrate to rule in her favor without a trial.

Cracker Barrel also has agreed to pay Heinzl $7,500 and Sweet's law firm $830,000 for its work on the lawsuit and future monitoring of Cracker Barrel's compliance with the settlement, Sweet said.

Cracker Barrel must notify any potential class member plaintiffs by sending notices to disability advocacy agencies, posting settlement notices at its restaurants and by establishing a website, www.crackerbarrelADAsettlement.com .

The Aug. 10 hearing is to hear objections from any plaintiffs who might disagree with the settlement, Sweet said.

"For millions of Americans and people with disabilities, our wheelchairs are our legs and our greatest tool as we seek to live independent, happy lives," Heinzl said. "But when the built environment works against you despite regulations that have been in effect for over a quarter-century, our legs become unusable and even the slightest slope can present a grave danger."

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Energy industry fills Senate candidates' coffers in WV http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170517/GZ0101/170519616 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170517/GZ0101/170519616 Wed, 17 May 2017 14:16:24 -0400 Jake Zuckerman By Jake Zuckerman The energy industry might be hedging its bets in a 2018 U.S. Senate race that is likely to be hotly contested.

In an analysis of campaign contributions from Jan. 1 to March 31, various direct stakeholders in America's oil, gas and coal sectors, including firms' employees or corporate political action committees, contributed $54,600 to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., for his 2018 re-election bid. They also contributed $56,550 to his strongest announced challenger, Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., who announced plans to contest Manchin last week.

Along with the direct stakeholders, indirect stakeholders, including employees of law firms that practice (although not exclusively) in energy law, corporate PACs under the same or similar firms and energy consulting groups contributed $39,200 to Manchin and $8,450 to Jenkins.

All Jenkins' contributions mentioned came in before he announced his Senate run.

Unless an outside or unannounced candidate wins, some companies' PACs are guaranteed to have picked a winner, as they have contributed to both mainstream campaigns.


For instance, PACs registered under energy companies such as ExxonMobil, Honeywell, Arch Coal, General Electric, the American Petroleum Institute and Dominion Energy, along with COALPAC (tied to the National Mining Association) donated to both campaigns.

Along with the campaign contributions, Manchin and Jenkins have a vested interest in energy, as well.

According to Manchin's 2016 Senate financial disclosure forms, he owns Enersystems Inc., a coal company. His stake in the firm is valued between $500,000 and $1 million, and he earned $365,635 from it in 2016.

He also owns between $100,000 and $250,000 in accounts receivable from Farmington Resources Inc., another energy sector company, yielding him $5,000 to $15,000 in interest throughout the year, according to the same disclosure.

Jefrey Pollock, a spokesman for Manchin's campaign, said the senator votes independently of his holdings and contributions.

“Before Senator Manchin votes, he asks himself one important question: Will this help the people of the state of West Virginia? That is how he has and always will cast every vote,” Pollock said.

Pollock also noted that Manchin has had the companies in a blind trust since his days as governor.

Jenkins has personal energy interests, as well. He owns between $1,000 and $15,000 in General Electric (which has contributed to his campaign) and an amount in the same range from Franklin Natural Resources, according to his 2015 House financial disclosure forms.

He has filed for an extension on his 2016 forms.

Andy Sere, a spokesman for Jenkins' campaign, said that although Jenkins is a pro-coal candidate, his holdings in energy are fairly marginal and do not affect his policy decisions.

“Congressman Jenkins is proud to have the support of West Virginia's energy producers and others who admire his dedication to Mountain State jobs, including those in the coal, oil and gas industries,” he said. “Evan's commitment to West Virginia values and interests is the guiding force of every decision he makes in Congress.”

Although she already knew energy companies would pour money into the Senate race, Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said the doubling down is concerning.

“It's interesting that there are some common donors between the two candidates. What that tells me is that those donors, whoever wins, are still expecting to have influence in politics,” she said. “It raises the question of how that influence favors the energy sector and decisions made in their favor over other sectors of our economy, what that might mean to stifle economic diversification or economic growth in West Virginia.”

Rosser also said energy's donations are an example of such companies having too much say in legislative affairs.

“It's not surprising, it's an indication of what we've seen for many decades here in West Virginia — that the energy interests dominate our state politics and politicians. And it seems like, moving into this election, that that's still going to be the case.”

However, Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said the contributions are not an attempt to buy influence, but a show of support for two candidates who have fought for the energy industry.

“I think it's fair to say that both Senator Manchin and Congressman Jenkins have been pretty staunch advocates of your fossil fuel industries and your energy, generally,” Hamilton said. “So it would stand to reason [that] they have a lot of support from a lot of individuals looking to support their campaigns.”

Hamilton said it's not entirely fair to say the companies donated to both Senate candidates, as all reported donations occurred before Jenkins announced, when he could have been considering another run for the House of Representatives. Although Jenkins said he was “strongly considering” running for the Senate months ago, Hamilton said it would be inaccurate to say the donors saw it coming.

He said he believes the contributions are a response to stricter environmental regulations for energy companies under the Obama administration.

“The fossil industry faces unprecedented challenges,” he said. “Coal, in particular, over the last near-decade now, has been under the gun and has been trying to withstand perhaps the biggest challenge of its history, and that is against a sitting U.S. president that's using every resources he has available to him to ratchet down on the fossil fuel consumption and production. The time has come for individuals in support of the industry to really champion the issue.”

That rationale is countered, though, by calculations from an April report published by Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy, which shows increased competition from natural gas contributed to 49 percent of coal's recent downturn, compared to 26 percent from decreased energy consumption, 18 percent from boosts in renewable energy, with the remainder attributed to environmental regulations and other factors.

Beyond Jenkins and Manchin, the launch of 35th PAC, a super-PAC critical of the two candidates, has ties to Republican West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, suggesting that he will enter the race, as well.

Although no fundraising data is available on Morrisey, his wife is a co-owner of Capitol Counsel, a D.C. lobbying firm that made nearly $200,000 lobbying for energy sector firms in 2017, according to data from the Senate Office of Public Records, curated by the Center for Responsive Politics and his own financial disclosure forms.

Also, Bo Copley, a laid-off coal miner who came to fame questioning Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton about comments she made about the coal industry, is planning to run.

The only candidate in the race thus far without immediately apparent ties to the coal industry is Paula Jean Swearengin, who announced her candidacy last week. Her website identifies her as the daughter of a coal miner, who is pushing a renewable-energy platform.

According to Corbin Trent, communications director for Swearengin's campaign, Swearengin has raised roughly $54,000 from 2,759 donors, all but one of whom gave less than $200, meaning they do not need to disclose their employers.

Spokesmen from the West Virginia Oil and Gas Association did not respond to interview requests for this report.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

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Report: Trump asked Comey to halt Flynn investigation http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170516/GZ0113/170519650 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170516/GZ0113/170519650 Tue, 16 May 2017 20:35:47 -0400 By Eric Tucker The Associated Press By By Eric Tucker The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Now-fired FBI Director James Comey wrote in a memo that President Donald Trump had asked him to shut down an investigation into ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The person had seen the memo but was not authorized to discuss it by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. The existence of the memo was first reported Tuesday by The New York Times.

The White House denied the report.

"While the President has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn," the White House said in a statement.

Trump abruptly fired Comey last week, saying he did so based on his very public handling of the Hillary Clinton email inquiry.

But the White House has provided differing accounts of the firing. And lawmakers have alleged that the sudden ouster was an attempt to stifle the bureau's investigation into Trump associates' ties to Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Comey's memo detailing his conversation with Trump would be the clearest proof to date that the president has tried to influence that investigation. The Times said it was part of a paper trail Comey created documenting what he saw as Trump's efforts to improperly interfere in the ongoing probe.

The Justice Department would not comment for this report.

According to the Times, Comey wrote in the February memo that Trump said:

"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

Trump told Mr. Comey that Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.

Comey did not say anything to Trump about curtailing the investigation, only replying: "I agree he is a good guy."

The newspaper said Comey was in the Oval Office that day with other national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When that ended, Trump asked everyone to leave except Comey, and he eventually turned the conversation to Flynn.

On Tuesday, for the second night in a row, Senate Republicans and Democrats were caught off-guard as they entered the chamber for a scheduled vote.

"I don't know the facts, so I really want to wait until I find out what the facts are before commenting," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters.

Asked if it would be obstructing justice for Trump to have asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, Cornyn said: "You know, that's a very serious charge. I wouldn't want to answer a hypothetical question."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., emphatically said he's not commenting on news stories anymore.

"Let's get to the bottom of what happened with the director. And the best way to get to the bottom of it, is for him to testify. I'm not going to take a memo, I want the guy to come in," Graham told reporters, adding, "If he felt confident enough to write it down, he should come in and tell us about it."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Comey needs to come to Capitol Hill and testify.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he will ask Comey for additional material as part of the panel's investigation. "Memos, transcripts, tapes - the list keeps getting longer," he said.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut tweeted: "Just leaving Senate floor. Lots of chatter from Ds and Rs about the exact definition of 'obstruction of justice.' "

There is no sign that the FBI's Russia investigation is closing. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told Congress last week the investigation is "highly significant" and said Comey's dismissal would do nothing to impede the probe.

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Fidget spinners, the hit toy that spun out of nowhere http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170516/GZ0113/170519680 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170516/GZ0113/170519680 Tue, 16 May 2017 09:42:40 -0400 By Joseph Pisani The Associated Press By By Joseph Pisani The Associated Press NEW YORK (AP) - Stores can't keep them in stock. Parents are scrambling to find them. And some schools have banned them.

The mania for fidget spinners - the 3-inch twirling gadgets taking over classrooms and cubicles - is unlike many other toy crazes. They're not made by a major company, timed for the holiday season, or promoted in TV commercials. They're more easily found at gas stations or 7-Eleven than at big toy chains.

"It just took off," says Richard Gottlieb, a consultant at Global Toy Experts in New York.

Fidget spinners have been around for years, mostly used by kids with autism or attention disorders to help them concentrate. But they exploded in popularity this spring.

Shannan Rowell, a sixth-grade special education teacher, says that after a weeklong break in late April more than half of her 25 students suddenly had one.

"They seem to be taking over classrooms," says Rowell, who lives in North Grafton, Massachusetts.

Gottlieb thinks it's likely a kid brought one to a playground and the craze spread from there. Recent YouTube videos of people spinning them on their noses, foreheads and shoes also helped.

Helen Holden heard about fidget spinners last month when her 7-year-old twins demanded she stop at a 7-Eleven to buy them. "I thought it was a drink," says the bank vice president and blogger from Los Angeles.

That store was sold out, and so were several other 7-Eleven locations that she called. The chain says spinners have "been flying off the shelves" since they went on sale in March.

Holden's kids said they needed them before school on Monday so they could practice spinning them. So she signed up for Amazon Prime, paid $5.99 for one-day shipping and had two $15 fidget spinners delivered on a Sunday.

"I totally got suckered by my kids," she says.

At Funky Monkey Toys, owner Tom Jones says he got a phone call about the fidget spinners in April. About 30 minutes later, another person called. "I said, 'Whatever they are, I need to get them.'"

Now, the phone has been ringing 20 to 30 times a day with people checking if they're in stock. His shop in Oxford, Michigan, can sell up to 150 in a day.

"We run out of them frequently," says Jones, who recently got a shipment of 2,000.

On Amazon.com, 18 of the top 20 best-selling toys and games were fidget spinners, ranging from ones that cost just a few dollars to $12 versions touting stainless steel bearings.

Five Below, which sells items for $5 or less, says on its website that customers can only buy two fidget spinners at time.

Toys R Us flew fidget spinners in this month from China, rather than wait for ship transport. It says Rubik's Cubes, yo-yos and other toys to occupy restless hands have been hot sellers since the beginning of the year. It also started selling $12.99 fidget cubes - the items that made up the rest of the Amazon best-sellers - which fit in the palm of a hand and have clickers, wheels and switches on the sides.

Unlike hot toys at the holiday season, which are often made by one company, manufacturers - mostly in China - are making the fidget spinners as fast as they can. Jim Silver, the CEO and editor-in-chief of toy review website TTPM, expects the fad to last into the summer and then fade as more of them flood into the market.

"Demand starts to waver," he says.

Engineer Catherine Hettinger says she came up with a toy that was similar but not exactly the same in the early 1990s, but a patent expired more than a decade ago after she stopped paying the maintenance fees. Hettinger, who lives in the Orlando suburb of Winter Park, Florida, says she is not making any money from the craze.

"No one has contacted me. Nobody has sent me a check," she says. "But once a patent expires, it's public, so I wouldn't expect anything at this point."

Despite being marketed as a concentration aid, some teachers say fidget spinners have become a distraction.

Rowell, the sixth-grade teacher, says students twirled them too fast, banged them against desks or tried to whirl them on top of each other. She lets students bring them into the classroom, but only if they spin them under their desks and follow the rules she hung on the wall: "YOU MUST BE LOOKING AT THE TEACHER," ''YOU MUST BE LOOKING AT YOUR WORK" and "YOU MUST BE DISCREET."

Some schools have banned them. A middle school in Williamstown, New Jersey, wrote that spinners needed to stay in backpacks because they were a distraction in classrooms, hallways and during lunch periods. An elementary school in New York told parents to keep the gadgets at home because they were twirling into children's faces.

It's not just kids spinning them. Gottlieb thinks adults are reaching for spinners because they are more stressed out. "People don't smoke as much, so they have to figure out a way to work out their stress," he says.

Kim Juszczak, a lawyer from New York, whirls her red-and-black spinner on the subway or while she's thinking up legal arguments for a case.

"I'm naturally kind of fidgety," says Juszczak, who used to bend paperclips in her hand.

She first saw a spinner on Instagram, and got hers for about $6 on Amazon. Then she bought six more for friends and relatives.

"They're addictive," she says.

____

Associated Press reporters Terrance Harris in Orlando, Mike Householder in Detroit and Joseph Frederick in New York contributed to this report.

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Trump defends sharing terrorism 'facts' with Russians http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170516/GZ0101/170519682 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170516/GZ0101/170519682 Tue, 16 May 2017 08:54:55 -0400 By Vivian Salama and Deb Riechmann The Associated Press By By Vivian Salama and Deb Riechmann The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his right to share "facts pertaining to terrorism" and airline safety with Russia, saying in a pair of tweets he has "an absolute right" as president to do so.

Trump's tweets did not say whether he revealed classified information about the Islamic State group, as published reports have said and as a U.S. official told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The White House has pushed back against those reports, but has not denied that classified information was disclosed in the May 10 meeting between Trump and Russian diplomats.

In a pair of tweets, the president responded to a firestorm of criticism triggered by the reports.

"I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining...to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism," Trump tweeted.

Trump shared details about an Islamic State terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, a senior U.S official told The Associated Press. The classified information had been shared with the president by an ally, violating the confidentiality of an intelligence-sharing agreement with that country, the official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly, would not say which country's intelligence was divulged.

The disclosure put a source of intelligence on the Islamic State at risk, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the disclosure on Monday.

Trump later was informed that he had broken protocol and White House officials placed calls to the National Security Agency and the CIA looking to minimize any damage.

Russia's foreign ministry spokesman denied the report. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, on Facebook on Tuesday described the reports as "yet another fake."

The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have declined to comment.

The U.S. official said that Trump boasted about his access to classified intelligence in last week's meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak. An excerpt to an official transcript of the meeting reveals that Trump told them, "I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day," he said.

Kislyak has been a central player in the snowballing controversy surrounding possible coordination between Trump's campaign and Russia's election meddling.

The revelations drew strong condemnation from Democrats and a rare rebuke of Trump from some Republican lawmakers. White House officials denounced the report, saying the president did not disclose intelligence sources or methods to the Russians, though officials did not deny that classified information was disclosed in the May 10 meeting.

"The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation," said H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security adviser. "At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known."

The revelations could further damage Trump's already fraught relationship with U.S. intelligence agencies. He's openly questioned the competency of intelligence officials and challenged their high-confidence assessment that Russia meddled in last year's presidential election to help him win. His criticism has been followed by a steady stream of leaks to the media that have been damaging to Trump and exposed an FBI investigation into his associates' possible ties to Russia.

The disclosure also risks harming his credibility with U.S. partners around the world ahead of his first overseas trip. The White House was already reeling from its botched handling of Trump's decision last week to fire James Comey, the FBI director who was overseeing the Russia investigation.

A European security official said sharing sensitive information could dampen the trust between the United States and its intelligence sharing partners. "It wouldn't likely stop partners from sharing life-saving intelligence with the Americans, but it could impact the trust that has been built, particularly if sharing such information exposes specific intelligence gathering methods," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak about such intelligence sharing.

The Royal Court in Jordan said that King Abdullah II was to speak by telephone with Trump later Tuesday. The revelation also prompted cries of hypocrisy. Trump spent the campaign arguing that his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, should be locked up for careless handling of classified information.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also disputed the report. He said Trump discussed a range of subjects with the Russians, including "common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism." The nature of specific threats was discussed, he said, but not sources, methods or military operations.

The controversy engulfed the White House. Reporters spent much of the evening camped out adjacent to Press Secretary Sean Spicer's office, hoping for answers. At one point, an eagle-eyed reporter spotted a handful of staffers, including Spicer and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, walking toward the Cabinet Room.

Muffled yelling was heard coming from the area near the room, but after a reporter tweeted about the noise, press staffers quickly turned up their television volume, blasting the sound to drown out everything else.

__

Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Vivian Salama, Catherine Lucey, Jill Colvin and Ken Thomas contributed to this report from Washington. Associated Press writer Paisley Dodds contributed from London.

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Syrian government denies US allegations of mass killings http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170516/GZ0101/170519683 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170516/GZ0101/170519683 Tue, 16 May 2017 08:46:47 -0400 By Philip Issa  The Associated Press By By Philip Issa  The Associated Press BEIRUT (AP) - The Syrian government on Tuesday "categorically" denied U.S. accusations of mass killings at a prison near Damascus, including executing political opponents and burning the victims in a crematorium at the site.

The allegations are "a new Hollywood plot" to justify U.S. intervention in Syria, a statement from the Foreign Ministry said. It described the U.S. State Department accusations from the day before as "lies" and "fabrications," noting what it called a U.S. track record of making up false claims as a pretext for military aggression.

The State Department said on Monday that it believes about 50 detainees are being hanged each day at the Saydnaya military prison, about 45 minutes' drive north of Damascus.

Many of the bodies are then burned in the crematorium "to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place," said Stuart Jones, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, accusing President Bashar Assad's government of sinking "to a new level of depravity."

The allegation of mass killings came as President Donald Trump weighs options in Syria, where the U.S. launched cruise missiles on a government air base last month after accusing Assad's military of killing scores of civilians with a sarin-like nerve agent.

The latest accusations have cast a shadow over Syria peace talks in Geneva, where Syrian government and opposition representatives sat down separately with the U.N. envoy as talks on the war-torn Mideast country got underway on Tuesday.

The meetings were the sixth round of the talks brokered by U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura.

"The U.S. administration's accusations against the Syrian government of a so-called crematorium in Saydnaya prison, in addition to the broken record about the use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons, are categorically false," the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.

The allegation could test the Trump administration's willingness to respond to atrocities other than chemical weapons attacks Washington blames on Assad's government.

Western monitors and watchdog groups say they have accumulated evidence of mass killings in Syrian government prisons, though there have not been any substantiated allegations so far of the use of a crematorium.

The State Department released commercial satellite photographs showing what it described as a building in the prison complex that was modified to support the crematorium. The photographs, taken over the course of several years, beginning in 2013, do not prove the building is a crematorium, but show construction consistent with such use.

The revelations echoed a February report by Amnesty International that said Syria's military police hanged as many as 13,000 people in four years before carting out bodies by the truckload for burial in mass graves. ___

Associated Press Writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.

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Officials: Trump revealed secrets to Russian foreign minister, ambassador http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170515/GZ0113/170519700 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170515/GZ0113/170519700 Mon, 15 May 2017 20:53:01 -0400 By Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe The Washington Post By By Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe The Washington Post WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump's disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump's decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump's meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.

"This is code-word information," said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump "revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies."

The revelation comes as the president faces rising legal and political pressure on multiple Russia-related fronts. Last week, he fired FBI Director James Comey in the midst of a bureau investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Trump's subsequent admission that his decision was driven by "this Russia thing" was seen by critics as attempted obstruction of justice.

One day after dismissing Comey, Trump welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak - a key figure in earlier Russia controversies - into the Oval Office. It was during that meeting, officials said, that Trump went off script and began describing details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.

For almost anyone in government, discussing such matters with an adversary would be illegal. As president, Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law.

White House officials involved in the meeting said Trump discussed only shared concerns about terrorism.

"The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation," said H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, who participated in the meeting. "At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly."

McMaster reiterated his statement in a subsequent appearance at the White House on Monday and described the Washington Post story as "false," but did not take any questions.

In their statements, White House officials emphasized that Trump had not discussed specific intelligence sources and methods, rather than addressing whether he had disclosed information drawn from sensitive sources.

The CIA declined to comment, and the NSA did not respond to requests for comment.

But officials expressed concern about Trump's handling of sensitive information as well as his grasp of the potential consequences. Exposure of an intelligence stream that has provided critical insight into the Islamic State, they said, could hinder the United States' and its allies' ability to detect future threats.

"It is all kind of shocking," said a former senior U.S. official who is close to current administration officials. "Trump seems to be very reckless and doesn't grasp the gravity of the things he's dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security. And it's all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia."

In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. "I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day," the president said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.

Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States learned only through the espionage capabilities of a key partner. He did not reveal the specific intelligence-gathering method, but he described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State's territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.

The Post is withholding most plot details, including the name of the city, at the urging of officials who warned that revealing them would jeopardize important intelligence capabilities.

"Everyone knows this stream is very sensitive, and the idea of sharing it at this level of granularity with the Russians is troubling," said a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official who also worked closely with members of the Trump national security team. He and others spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.

The identification of the location was seen as particularly problematic, officials said, because Russia could use that detail to help identify the U.S. ally or intelligence capability involved. Officials said the capability could be useful for other purposes, possibly providing intelligence on Russia's presence in Syria. Moscow would be keenly interested in identifying that source and perhaps disrupting it.

Russia and the United States both regard the Islamic State as an enemy and share limited information about terrorist threats. But the two nations have competing agendas in Syria, where Moscow has deployed military assets and personnel to support President Bashar al-Assad.

"Russia could identify our sources or techniques," the senior U.S. official said.

A former intelligence official who handled high-level intelligence on Russia said that given the clues Trump provided, "I don't think that it would be that hard [for Russian spy services] to figure this out."

At a more fundamental level, the information wasn't the United States' to provide to others. Under the rules of espionage, governments - and even individual agencies - are given significant control over whether and how the information they gather is disseminated, even after it has been shared. Violating that practice undercuts trust considered essential to sharing secrets.

The officials declined to identify the ally but said it has previously voiced frustration with Washington's inability to safeguard sensitive information related to Iraq and Syria.

"If that partner learned we'd given this to Russia without their knowledge or asking first, that is a blow to that relationship," the U.S. official said.

Trump also described measures the United States has taken or is contemplating to counter the threat, including military operations in Iraq and Syria, as well as other steps to tighten security, officials said.

The officials would not discuss details of those measures, but the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed that it is considering banning laptops and other large electronic devices from carry-on bags on flights between Europe and the United States. The United States and Britain imposed a similar ban in March affecting travelers passing through airports in 10 Muslim-majority countries.

Trump cast the countermeasures in wistful terms. "Can you believe the world we live in today?" he said, according to one official. "Isn't it crazy?"

Lavrov and Kislyak were also accompanied by aides.

A Russian photographer took photos of part of the session that were released by the Russian state-owned Tass news agency. No U.S. news organization was allowed to attend any part of the meeting.

Senior White House officials appeared to recognize quickly that Trump had overstepped and moved to contain the potential fallout. Thomas Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, placed calls to the directors of the CIA and the NSA, the services most directly involved in the intelligence-sharing arrangement with the partner.

One of Bossert's subordinates also called for the problematic portion of Trump's discussion to be stricken from internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients, efforts to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked.

White House officials defended Trump. "This story is false," said Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser for strategy. "The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced."

But officials could not explain why staff members nevertheless felt it necessary to alert the CIA and the NSA.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he would rather comment on the revelations in the Post story after "I know a little bit more about it," but added: "Obviously, they are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening. And the shame of it is, there's a really good national security team in place."

Corker also said, "The chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think makes - it's creates a worrisome environment."

Trump has repeatedly gone off-script in his dealings with high-ranking foreign officials, most notably in his contentious introductory conversation with the Australian prime minister earlier this year. He has also faced criticism for seemingly lax attention to security at his Florida retreat, Mar-a-Lago, where he appeared to field preliminary reports of a North Korea missile launch in full view of casual diners.

U.S. officials said that the National Security Council continues to prepare multi-page briefings for Trump to guide him through conversations with foreign leaders, but that he has insisted that the guidance be distilled to a single page of bullet points - and often ignores those.

"He seems to get in the room or on the phone and just goes with it, and that has big downsides," the second former official said. "Does he understand what's classified and what's not? That's what worries me."

Lavrov's reaction to the Trump disclosures was muted, officials said, calling for the United States to work more closely with Moscow on fighting terrorism.

Kislyak has figured prominently in damaging stories about the Trump administration's ties to Russia. Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign just 24 days into the job over his contacts with Kislyak and his misleading statements about them. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to recuse himself from matters related to the FBI's Russia investigation after it was revealed that he had met and spoke with Kislyak, despite denying any contact with Russian officials during his confirmation hearing.

"I'm sure Kislyak was able to fire off a good cable back to the Kremlin with all the details" he gleaned from Trump, said the former U.S. official who handled intelligence on Russia.

The White House readout of the meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak made no mention of the discussion of a terrorist threat.

"Trump emphasized the need to work together to end the conflict in Syria," the summary said. The president also "raised Ukraine" and "emphasized his desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia."

The Washington Post's Julie Tate and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.

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Trump on Comey: "I was going to fire that 'showboat' no matter what" http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170511/GZ0113/170519870 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170511/GZ0113/170519870 Thu, 11 May 2017 22:49:54 -0400 By Julie Pace, Eileen Sullivan and Jakie Pearson The Associated Press By By Julie Pace, Eileen Sullivan and Jakie Pearson The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Undermining previous White House explanations, President Donald Trump declared Thursday he had planned to fire FBI Director James Comey all along, regardless of whether top Justice Department officials recommended the stunning decision.

His assertions came as Comey's temporary replacement contradicted other administration statements on the issue.

In an interview with NBC News, Trump also said he'd asked Comey point-blank if he was under investigation. He said Comey told him three times - at a dinner and in two phone calls - that he was not, as the bureau probed his presidential campaign's possible ties to Russia's alleged election meddling.

"I said, 'If it's possible, would you let me know am I under investigation?' He said, 'You are not under investigation,' " Trump told NBC.

The shifting accounts of the decision to fire Comey, whom Trump derided as a "showboat" and "grandstander," added to a mounting sense of uncertainty in the West Wing, as aides seemed to try to get their stories straight and appease an angry president. Not even Vice President Mike Pence was spared the embarrassment of having told a version of events that was later discredited by Trump.

The White House's explanations continued to crumble throughout the day Thursday. On Capitol Hill, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe disputed the White House's assertion that Comey had been fired, in part, because he had lost the confidence of the FBI's rank-and-file.

"That is not accurate," McCabe said. "Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI, and still does to this day."

Unfazed, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted that she had heard from "countless" members of the FBI who welcomed the president's decision.

McCabe also pointed out the remarkable nature of Trump's version of his conversations with Comey. McCabe told a Senate panel it was not "standard practice" to tell an individual whether they are or are not under investigation.

Previous presidents have made a public show of staying out of legal matters, so as not to appear to be injecting politics. Trump's comments demonstrated his deviation from that practice and scant concern for the appearance of FBI independence.

The ousted director himself is said to be confident that his own version of events will come out, possibly in an appearance before Congress, according to an associate who has been in touch with him since his firing Tuesday.

Trump and Comey's relationship was strained early on, in part because of the president's claims that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Comey found the allegations confounding, according to his associate, and wondered what to make of what he described as strange thoughts coming from his new boss.

The president was no kinder to Comey on Thursday, calling him names and saying he'd left the FBI in "virtual turmoil." He said that while he received a scathing assessment of Comey's performance from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Monday, that memo was not a catalyst for his dramatic decision as the White House had said earlier.

"I was going to fire Comey," Trump said. "Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey."

That's far different from the White House's initial account in the hours after Comey's firing. Multiple officials, including Pence, said the president was acting at the behest of Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

But it quickly became clear that the president had been stewing for days over the Russia investigation and Comey's refusal to defend him in appearances before lawmakers. By Wednesday afternoon, the officials, like Trump, were saying he had, in fact, been considering ousting the FBI director for months because of a lack of confidence in his ability to lead the agency.

Sanders attributed the disconnect in explanations to the fact that she had not directly asked Trump when he'd made the decision to fire Comey until shortly before Thursday's news briefing.

The White House tried to move past the controversy, announcing that the president had signed an executive order creating a voter fraud commission and another on cybersecurity. Trump signed the orders privately and was not seen in public apart from his TV interview with NBC.

Trump had kept his decision to fire Comey from all but his closest advisers. Many in the White House were ill-prepared for the outraged response from Democrats and open concern from some Republicans.

"The challenge they have is that the president sometimes moves so rapidly that they don't get a team around that gets it organized," said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and a Trump ally. "They need to decide what they're going to say and they need to stick with it. Random change isn't helpful."

White House officials and others insisted on anonymity to disclose private conversations and internal deliberations.

The White House said Trump is weighing options for replacing Comey, a decision that could have broad implications on the future of the Russia investigation.

Some senior officials have discussed nominating Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who ran the House committee that investigated then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's actions in connection with the 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Trump's advisers repeatedly have tried to downplay the Russia-election matter, with Sanders saying Wednesday the FBI is "doing a whole lot more than the Russia investigation."

But McCabe characterized the investigation as "highly significant" and assured senators Comey's firing would not hinder it. He promised he would tolerate no interference from the White House and would not provide the administration with updates on its progress.

"You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing," he declared. He said there has been no interference so far.

Days before he was fired, officials have said, Comey requested more resources to pursue his investigation. McCabe said he was not aware of any such request and said the Russia investigation is adequately resourced.

Democrats have said that Comey informed lawmakers of such a request, but the Justice Department has denied that one was made.

For his part, McCabe said he was "not aware of that request, and it's not consistent with my understanding of how we request additional resources."

It was unclear if word of Comey's alleged request, said to have been put to Rosenstein, ever made its way to Trump.

The chairman and top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee abruptly left the hearing Thursday to meet with Rosenstein, who is McCabe's boss. The senators said later that the Russia investigations were discussed but Comey's firing was not.

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Program facing Trump budget cuts to host AG Sessions in Charleston http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170510/GZ0101/170519949 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170510/GZ0101/170519949 Wed, 10 May 2017 19:25:48 -0400 Jake Zuckerman By Jake Zuckerman The chief law enforcement officer of the United States will speak at an event today in Charleston that is co-sponsored by an offshoot of an organization the Trump administration is working to defund by 95 percent.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will offer opening remarks at a heroin and opioid response summit at the University of Charleston that is co-sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, a subsidiary of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The ONDCP, the White House's point office for combating illicit drugs and maintaining recovery efforts, is a target on President Donald Trump's fiscal hit list, according to a leaked document first reported in Politico.

The ONDCP, which oversees the anti-drug coalition, could see its annual budget fall from $388 million to $24 million, if Congress approves Trump's proposal.

A spokesman for the coalition could not be reached for comment. Spokesmen for the DEA and the University of Charleston would not comment for this report.

Although organizers initially said Sessions would be available to reporters at the event, a spokesman with the Department of Justice issued a release Wednesday evening stating that Sessions no longer will be available for a news conference. The recent firing of FBI Director James Comey and a protest leading to the arrest of a citizen-journalist at the West Virginia Capitol on Tuesday during U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price's visit are likely culprits for the change.

Since news of the leaked memo broke, the administration has taken flak for defunding its drug control operation as the heroin problem worsens across the nation and Trump continues to speak out against the growing problem.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., penned a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney urging him to reconsider the proposal and threatened to strike it down in committee if it makes it into the final budget proposal.

"If cuts to the ONDCP, including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas and Drug Free Communities Programs, are proposed in the Administration's Fiscal Year 2018 Budget then I will lead a bipartisan group of my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee and in the Senate to reject those proposed cuts," Capito wrote.

Both programs Capito mentioned are alive and well in West Virginia.

In the leaked memo, the draft justifies the cuts, claiming that the ONDCP produces "duplicative and burdensome administrative tasks" and the freed-up funds can be better used to address drug threats elsewhere.

At a news conference at the West Virginia Capitol on Tuesday centered around combating the heroin crisis, Price defended the proposed cuts to the ONDCP.

"[The ONDCP] is actually wasting taxpayer dollars and resources, and we think that's not appropriate," Price said. "What the president and the Office of Management and Budget Director Mulvaney [are] doing is to make sure the resources are going where they will have the greatest effect as possible."

However, Rafael Lemaitre, a former staffer at the ONDCP, said calling the office inefficient is inaccurate. He said the department essentially is the quarterback that oversees the entirety of different narcotics programs ranging from criminal justice to recovery and prevention.

"If President Trump is serious about addressing the opioid crisis, he wouldn't cut the budget of the leading drug agency leading that battle by 96 percent," he said.

He said funding the office actually saves money in the long run.

"ONDCP actually saves the taxpayers money by identifying and coordinating programs so they work together and actually reduce a drug problem that costs taxpayers over $200 million in social costs," he said. "Slashing it would have the exact opposite effect - wasteful spending would abound and there would be no strategic focus."

Sessions is to speak at 9 a.m. today at the University of Charleston.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

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Manchin joins call for special inquiry of alleged Russian interference http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170510/GZ0101/170519951 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170510/GZ0101/170519951 Wed, 10 May 2017 18:58:13 -0400 Erin Beck By Erin Beck Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has added his voice to the list of those calling for a special investigation into the president's ties to Russia.

Democrats renewed calls for a special prosecutor Wednesday, a day after President Donald Trump fired James Comey as director of the FBI.

Comey publicly announced last month that the FBI was investigating whether the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election, including involvement by the Trump campaign. Days before his firing, Comey asked the Justice Department for more resources for that investigation.

On Wednesday, a Trump spokeswoman said the president had been considering the termination since January.

"Should have done it," Manchin said, before adding, "I mean, if that's the case.

"I would have recommended back then, if you were going to make the changes, make the changes from the get-go," he said. "It makes it harder to do that right now without having the appearance there might be more to this than just saying 'It's time we got rid of him.' Timing is everything."

The president and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have said, through letters released publicly, that they followed the guidance of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who wrote, in a letter dated Tuesday, that he blamed Comey's handling of "the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails." The letter said Comey usurped the attorney general's authority by announcing that the case would be closed without prosecution, on July 6, 2016, and that he should not have held a news conference.

A spokesperson for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., sent a statement Wednesday thanking Comey for his service and denied an interview request, pointing to the senator's busy schedule.

"Going forward it is incumbent upon the president to nominate a fair and independent person to lead the FBI, and provide the American people with confidence that all investigations are handled appropriately and without political interference," she said.

The spokesperson did not respond to a question asking if the senator saw a need for a special investigation.

During a conference call with reporters, Manchin was asked about reports that Comey had asked the Justice Department for more resources.

After pausing to consult staffers, Manchin asked the reporter, "Did you see that in some sort of report or release?"

When told that it had been widely reported, Manchin responded: "That's a fact."

Manchin said he wants to see a "special independent prosecutor take the case." He recommended it be "the highest-ranking person in the FBI," who would report to Congress.

"It would have to be a high-ranking career person that can't be in jeopardy of losing their job or fired," he said.

Manchin said he doesn't want the investigation to be "a witch hunt from one side of the aisle" or "a protection of administration or anybody else on the other side of the aisle."

He said members of the Senate Intelligence Committee had learned that Comey had sought more assistance within the last week to 10 days. He added that Comey "was kind of rudderless for a while there," noting that Loretta Lynch had left her post as U.S. attorney general and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the investigation.

Manchin is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which also is investigating alleged interference by the Russian government.

"It's not going to change how we're going to do our job," he said.

Reach Erin Beck at erin.beck@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5163, Facebook.com/erinbeckwv or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.

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Senate unexpectedly rejects bid to repeal methane rule http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170510/GZ0101/170519978 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170510/GZ0101/170519978 Wed, 10 May 2017 13:07:58 -0400 By Chelsea Harvey and Juliet Eilperin The Washington Post By By Chelsea Harvey and Juliet Eilperin The Washington Post WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate narrowly voted down a resolution on Wednesday to repeal an Obama-era rule regulating methane emissions from drilling on public lands - with three Republicans joining every Democrat to preserve the rule.

The 51-49 vote marked the first time since President Donald Trump's election that Republicans have failed in their attempt to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn Obama-era rules.

Thirteen earlier resolutions, based on the 1996 law that allows Congress to overturn rules within 60 days of their adoption, all succeeded.

The methane emissions rule, issued by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management in November, addresses a potent greenhouse gas that is accelerating climate change.

The previous administration estimated the rule would prevent roughly 180,000 tons a year of methane from escaping into the atmosphere and would boost federal revenue because firms pay only royalties on the federal resources they capture and contain.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., unexpectedly voted no against a motion to proceed with consideration of the resolution, along with GOP Sens. Susan Collins, Maine, and Lindsey Graham, S.C. Two Democrats who had considered backing the rule's elimination -- Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia -- voted against the motion as well.

In a floor speech after the vote, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said "the very first victory" lawmakers have had in beating back a Congressional Review Act bill this year came from a combination of Democratic unity and a few Republicans' willingness to buck their leadership. "Thank you so much for coming forward and seeing the common sense nature of this issue," Udall said, referring to Collins, Graham and McCain.

Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, praised the lawmakers who chose to support the rule. "In recent months, thousands of Americans asked the Senate to stand up for clean air and against the oil lobby, and their efforts were successful today," he said.

Republicans and industry officials said they would now switch their focus to getting the Interior Department to rewrite the rule.

Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said his group "looks forward to working with the Interior Department on a targeted, meaningful solution that will achieve the common goal of ensuring the American taxpayers receive a fair and equitable return in the form of royalties while developing a workable regulation, instead of this one-size-fits-all approach."

And Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said in a statement that Interior should withdraw the regulation outright. "If left in place, this regulation will only discourage energy production, job creation, and economic opportunity across the West."

Before this year, Congress had only nullified one rule, a regulation on ergonomics Bill Clinton enacted during his final year in office. In less than four months Republicans have easily wiped away rules covering everything from limits on the dumping of waste from surface mining operations to giving states greater power to offer retirement accounts to private-sector workers.

But the move to strike a rule requiring companies to limit the practice of flaring, or leaking, methane from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal land had given some Republicans - who control 52 seats in the Senate - pause.

Many Republicans and fossil fuel producers criticized the regulation after it was finalized last year, and a resolution to repeal it passed quickly in the House of Representatives at the end of January. But despite Trump's support for the measure, it had been sitting in the Senate for months, and had to pass by Thursday to be eligible to be signed into law.

Democrats and their allies, including several environmental and public health groups, ran a months-long campaign in which they convinced Heitkamp and Manchin to not disclose their position publicly while arguing to centrist Republicans that abolishing the rule would cost taxpayers money as well as harm the environment.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also remained on the fence until Monday, when he announced in a statement that he would vote to overturn the BLM regulation. Two other wavering Republicans, Cory Gardner, Colo., and Dean Heller, Nev., ultimately joined Portman in voting to proceed with the bill's consideration.

"Unfortunately, the previous administration's methane rule was not a balanced approach," Portman said. "As written, it would have hurt our economy and cost jobs in Ohio by forcing small independent operators to close existing wells and slowing responsible energy production on federal lands. There's a better way."

He added that he believes the Interior Department should still work to reduce venting and flaring on public lands. Last week, Portman submitted a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, outlining his concerns and calling for a commitment that the department would continue to work to reduce methane waste if the Obama rule were reversed. On May 4, Zinke responded in a letter affirming that "the Department is committed to reducing methane waste, and under my leadership, we will take important steps to accomplish this goal."

Environmentalists immediately responded with skepticism and urged Portman to reconsider. In a statement released Tuesday morning, Environmental Defense Action Fund Executive Director Fred Krupp said Zinke's assurances were "unfounded" and argued that the strategies for reducing methane waste outlined in his letter would have little impact on the problem.

A coalition of industry groups have argued they are already taking steps to reduce fugitive methane emissions, because capturing them can yield additional profits. The American Petroleum Institute noted that the Environmental Protection Agency's data, released in March, shows that methane emissions from petroleum production has dropped roughly 8 percent since 2014, largely because of improved gas venting and flaring techniques.

Even as majority leader Mitch McConnell announced he would bring the matter up for a vote Wednesday, opponents continued to lobby the senators who had not announced how they would vote. Gwen Lachelt, a commissioner in La Plata County, Colorado, staked out Gardner's office Tuesday in an effort to catch him, and met with his chief of staff that afternoon.

Lachelt, who joined Democratic Sens. Michael F. Bennet of Colorado and Maria Cantwell of Washington and a rancher from New Mexico at a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday, said that the methane plume that hangs over her state and three others will persist in the absence of strong federal regulation.

"My constituents deserve protection," Lachelt said.

Bennet, for his part, said the resolution was "yet another example of Washington putting narrow interests over the public good and putting ideology over facts. We must retain these common-sense rules not only for our environment, but also for taxpayers to receive a fair return on oil and gas resources."

The legislative window for Congressional Review Act resolutions to be considered ends on Thursday, though a handful of conservative analysts believe that agencies' failure to submit a 2-page report on previous rules to Congress could open the door to reconsideration of dozens of much older rules.

Curtis Copeland, a regulatory expert who specialized in American government at the Congressional Research Service, said in an email that regardless of how many rules this Congress ultimately overturns, "The CRA can no longer be described as 'obscure' or 'little known.' It now has to be viewed as a substantive tool of congressional oversight regarding an outgoing President's rules, and it is likely be used again in the future."

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